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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Indonesia's bird flu dilemma
By Tim Byard-Jones
BBC Monitoring Indonesia specialist

Young boy holds doves
Doves occupy a special place of honour in Indonesia
As human deaths from bird flu begin to mount in Indonesia, the dilemma for the Indonesian authorities is as much how to save the birds as how to save the people.

To say that Indonesians love their caged birds is a serious understatement. Almost every house has at least one cage, and often a row of them, hanging from the eaves.

Every major town has a crowded bird market lined with hundreds of cages, where a top-quality singing dove can sell for the same price as a house.

As in several other Muslims countries, doves occupy a special place of honour in the culture, with streets, companies and even a domestic airline - Merpati - named after them.

The doves are not merely kept for decoration - they are taken out and handled, treated as much-loved pets and taken to vets when they fall ill.


Tapes of champion singing doves are available in cassette shops, and are played at home to birds in the hope that they will learn to emulate the champions, and become champions themselves.

Officials spraying disinfectant
Every major town has a bird market

In Javanese folklore, a man is only considered to be fully a man if he has a house, a wife, a horse, a keris (traditional dagger) and a singing dove in a cage.

Against this background, it is understandable that the response of the authorities has included Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyanto visiting bird-markets to explain the importance of disinfection.

Meanwhile, his ministry's employees are visiting the markets to spray disinfectant on cages, while government vets carry out a dove vaccination programme.

A risk there may be, but a cull of caged birds would cause the same sort of outcry as a proposed cull of dogs and cats in the UK.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

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